New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation on New Year’s Eve legalizing “natural organic reduction,” or what is commonly called human composting, making New York the sixth state since 2019toapprovethat method of burial.
In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize human composting. In 2021, Colorado and Oregon followed suit. Earlier in 2022, California and Vermont also legalized human composting. Don’t be fooled by the name. Human composting doesn’t mean tossing grandma’s remains on a compost pile and calling it a day.
Instead, it is a slower, more environmentally friendly method of reducing the body than cremation. But unlike cremation, human composting doesn’t reduce the body to ash but to soil. The remains are placed into a reusable container along with biodegradable materials like woodchips, alfalfa, and straw. The organic mix creates the ideal habitat for naturally occurring microbes to break the body down into soil.
The process typically takes about 30 to 60 days. Once complete, the former remains make about a cubic yard of nutrient-dense soil amendment that is the equivalent of 36 bags of soil. This can then be used to plant trees or enrich conservation land, forests, or gardens. For densely populated urban areas like New York City where cemetery land is limited, human compositing is also seen as an attractive alternative to burial. But not everyone is keen on the idea.
The New York State Catholic Conference of Bishops has long opposed the bill, calling the method “inappropriate.” Dennis Poust, the conference’s executive director, said in a statement that human bodies should not be treated as “household waste.”
Poust said the bishops do not believe that human composting “meets the standard of reverent treatment of our earthly remains.” Katrina Spade, the founder of the Seattle full-service green funeral home Recompose, said human composting offers an alternative for environmentally conscious people who want their remains to be disposed of in a manner that reflects how they lived.
Spade said the Green movement has embraced the process as an alternative to cremation, which requires fossil fuels, and burial, which “has a carbon footprint.”